Prevalence of abnormal heart weight after sudden death in people younger than 40 years of age

Zachary J. Schoppen, Lauren C. Balmert, Steven M White, Rachael Olson, Ponni Arunkumar, Lisa M. Dellefave-Castillo, Megan J. Puckelwartz, Alfred L. George, Elizabeth M. McNally, Gregory Webster*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: After sudden cardiac death in people aged <40 years, heart weight is a surrogate for cardiomegaly and a marker for cardiomyopathy. However, thresholds for cardiomegaly based on heart weight have not been validated in a cohort of cases of sudden cardiac death in young people. METHODS AND RESULTS: We surveyed medical examiner offices to determine which tools were used to assess heart weight norms. The survey determined that there was no gold standard for cardiomegaly (52 centers reported 22 different methods). We used a collection of heart weight data from sudden deaths in the Northwestern Sudden Death Collaboration (NSDC) to test the 22 methods. We found that the methods reported in our survey had little consistency: they classified between 18% and 81% of NSDC hearts with cardiomegaly. Therefore, we obtained biometric and postmortem data from a reference population of 3398 decedents aged <40 years. The reference population was ethnically diverse and had no known cardiac pathology on autopsy or histology. We derived and validated a multivariable regression model to predict normal heart weights and a threshold for cardiomegaly (upper 95% CI limit) in the young reference population (the Chicago model). Using the new model, the prevalence of cardiomegaly in hearts from the NSDC was 19%. CONCLUSIONS: Medical examiner offices use a variety of tools to classify cardiomegaly. These approaches produce inconsist-ent results, and many overinterpret cardiomegaly. We recommend the model proposed to classify postmortem cardiomegaly in cases of sudden cardiac death in young people.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere015699
JournalJournal of the American Heart Association
Issue number18
StatePublished - 2020


  • Autopsy
  • Cardiac
  • Cardiomegaly
  • Pediatric
  • Sudden death
  • Young

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Prevalence of abnormal heart weight after sudden death in people younger than 40 years of age'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this